Innovation, leadership, People

The negative feedback conundrum

image by @gapingvoid

image by @gapingvoid

So here’s the deal. If you, like me, sometimes speak in public – at conferences, events, whatever – you’ll often receive somewhat formal feedback from the organizers. They typically solicit this feedback from people after the event, and forward it to you with notes like “here’s the feedback, hopefully it’s useful to you” and, in my recent experience, “maybe some people didn’t appreciate your approach” and other more generally negative feedback.

The more I receive it, the more I believe that negative feedback serves no purpose. It bothers me, stresses me out, and I don’t use it in any way. Please know that I do receive positive feedback as well, sometimes even more than negative feedback. Please also know that I don’t necessarily find positive feedback overwhelmingly useful either. It does make me feel good, which is fantastic, but neither negative nor positive feedback in themselves inform what I do or what I will do. It either bothers me or makes me feel good, but neither feeling lasts terribly long.

So, this post is about the problem of receiving negative feedback, and I’ve thought of ways to either deal with it better and possibly avoid it altogether.

List of methods to effectively manage and avoid negative feedback

1.  Never do anything. Pros: totally avoid negative feedback, solitude is nice. Cons: solitude can lead to madness, buying groceries typically needs to be done in person so logistically this is hard.

2.  Do things, but request that no feedback be given. Pros: Still get to do things. Cons: May not be asked to do many things.

3.  Receive feedback, both positive and negative, binge eat feelings. Pros: Can still do things, increase the share value of fast food restaurants. Cons: Unhealthy, have to buy new clothes frequently.

4.  Let people know they can leave any time if they aren’t enjoying themselves or feel they aren’t getting what they wanted to get out of your presentation. Pros: People walking out provides instant feedback, but you have to move forward for the those who remain. Cons: People may flee your presentation all at once, may not be enough exits.

5.  Be hyper-specific about your topic and your approach, so that only those people who actually want to be there and participate will be there. Pros: People who won’t understand or appreciate what you’re talking about will go somewhere else. Cons: Fewer people in the presentation.

The methods I’m going to employ are 4 and 5. Much of the time the negative feedback comes from people who say “I feel like I should have selected a different presenter” or “I didn’t get out of the presentation what I hoped to get out of it”. This gives people permission to use their time in ways that they want to use it, including going somewhere else and learning something they want to learn. Ultimately this is about not wasting people’s time, and giving them the opportunity to take ownership of their schedules.

Feedback where a genuine and sincere relationship is absent has limited value. Seeking feedback from people you trust and know you is the only real feedback you should trust and rely upon, everything else is merely flattery or insult.




  1. Pingback: The negative feedback conundrum | thinkfulblog - November 19, 2015

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